In a few years, people might be able to go on vacations that are literally out of this world. Bigelow Aerospace, a Las Vegas-based private company, is reportedly hoping to launch two space stations that could, in the grander scheme of things, be used for science, but could also serve as a floating “space hotel” for wealthy tourists.
According to Space.com, hotel billionaire and company founder Robert Bigelow announced on Tuesday the creation of a new spinoff firm called Bigelow Space Operations, which was established last year, but only started hiring employees earlier this month. The new company will serve as ground zero for all products created by its parent firm, handling customer service, marketing inquiries, and operations for Bigelow Aerospace’s “B330” series of “fully autonomous, standalone” space stations.
At the moment, the B330-1 and B330-2 are well into the fabrication stage, according to Bigelow, who noted that the space stations will hopefully launch sometime in 2021. When combined, this pair of 55-foot-long modules will form a larger space station that the company estimates to be capable of doubling the International Space Station’s volume capacity.
The soft-bodied modules Bigelow’s space stations are based on launch in compressed form but significantly expand once in space. Space.com explained that the use of inflatable modules allows for the maximization of habitable volume per unit launch mass and greater protection against radiation in comparison to conventional, non-expandable aluminum modules.
Although the stations will ideally be used for scientific research, Bigelow also announced plans to use them as space hotels for tourists. He estimates the per-passenger cost to ideally be somewhere in the low seven-figure range, though there’s a chance that the cost might be closer to the “low eight figures,” the Daily Mail wrote.
Currently, there is already one Bigelow Aerospace habitat connected to the ISS — the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), which was launched in April 2016. While it wasn’t exactly described as a space hotel due to its smaller size, BBC News referred to BEAM as an “inflatable space home,” one that looks like a large pillow in normal form, but could theoretically hold a car once inflated in space. ISS astronauts are in the middle of a two-year testing process, which will determine how durable the module is while in space.
In relation to the planned space hotel and space stations, Bigelow Aerospace also announced that it hopes to set up a new manufacturing facility, either in Florida or in Alabama. According to Digital Trends, the company might have to recruit more talent for the endeavor, possibly adding another 400 to 500 employees to its payroll to provide support for the aforementioned space stations.